2017-10-19 / Editorial

Standing by our sheriffs in wake of detainment issue

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

A few weeks ago, Gov. Paul LePage began threatening to remove sheriffs from office if they didn’t do their jobs to his liking. The governor was upset because the sheriffs were rejecting pressure to conduct warrantless detentions handed down from the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

There’s every reason to believe that detaining someone in the absence of a warrant or cause would violate the civil rights of the detained.

In this country, we extend the right to due process to every single human being. It’s one of the civil rights that makes our constitution a guiding beacon for people all over the world.

Several sheriffs have determined that they would not, and could not, fulfill unconstitutional detention requests from the federal government. They knew there may be political repercussions for their decision, but they knew the alternative was to flout the constitution, betray their oaths to uphold the law, and invite lawsuits against the counties that elected them.

When the time came, those sheriffs – including our own Sheriff Bill King – stood up for what was right. They made a tough decision, despite the potential risk to themselves, just like they do every day they put on the uniform. Our brave men and women on the front lines of public safety know how to do their jobs a heck of lot more than the Governor does. It’s not enough to simply say you support law enforcement, you have to back it up when the going gets tough. The highest respect for law enforcement is allowing them to do the job they were put there to do not just a flag pin and empty rhetoric.

If Gov. LePage or anyone else disagreed with the sheriffs’ interpretation of the Maine and US Constitutions, there is a remedy available for them: the courts. The judicial branch of government exists to settle such disputes.

Instead, the governor threatened retribution. He said he’d turn to an obscure provision in Maine’s Constitution that allows the chief executive to remove sheriffs from office. This provision has been used very rarely in our state’s history, and for good reason. It’s blatant abuse would be an affront to our democratic society. No one person nor the executive branch of government should have that much power.

We cannot sit on the sidelines while a sitting governor treats the Blaine House like the seat of a dictatorship.

We cannot allow Gov. LePage to remove duly elected sheriffs from office simply because they won’t do what he wants. Who’s next? Legislators. Mayors. Town select people.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation this year to amend Maine’s Constitution to remove from the governor the authority to fire county sheriffs. Amending the Constitution is no small matter.

It’s one that must be approached with grave care and the utmost respect it demands. But I believe this amendment is absolutely necessary.

The power to dismiss an elected official — whether a sheriff, a state representative or even the governor — should reside with the people.

It shouldn’t be the sole authority of any one person, and it should especially not be available to a governor who would use it simply because of a political disagreement.

That’s why I have consistently advocated for a formal recall process during my time in the Maine Legislature. I have submitted several bills to create such a recall, and have been turned down at each time. I pledge to keep fighting to give power back into the hands of the people rather than the small few.

In the meantime, I hope my colleagues in the Legislature will join me in passing my Constitutional amendment.

Bottom line: Gov. LePage needs to back off and let our sheriffs do their jobs. Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

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